Tuesday, September 21, 2010


This year mom and I continued our tradition of meeting someplace in Europe for a week or so in the summer. Last year it was Reykjavik, the year before Venice. This year Mom and her friend Nora rented a flat in Istanbul. I've put all the pics contained in this post, and more, up at my flickr site for better viewing.

I was only joining for about 5 days, but didn't want to try to pack the days with sights so tight that it was more stressful than relaxing. I did of course check out the must-sees, such as Hagia Sophia, the 1500-year old Cathedral-turned-Mosque-turned-museum:

Also the Topkapi Palace, including the buildings of the Sultan's harem:

My favorite sight, though, by far, were the ancient city walls, which are very much still intact.
I've had a keen fascination with old city walls ever since moving to Europe, and these are of the most impressive in history.

To add to the fascination, right before the trip I read a book entitled 1453 :The Holy War for Constantinople and the Clash of Islam and the West, about the famous siege of the city by the Sultan Mehmed. The book was very vivid and featured the city walls very prominently. Thus, it was quite amazing to walk over and inside these very same walls, visualizing what it was like 500 years ago as a soldier. These were some of the most impenetrable city walls every built, due to their architecture, sheer size, and extent. The most amazing thing about the walls today is that they cut right through the middle of the city.

Small sections of the wall have clearly been rebuilt, so as to illustrate what they may have looked like so long ago, and some nice green areas have been landscaped before some sections, but for the most part they appear largely ignored, not only in terms of upkeep, but by the residents that live in and around them as a whole. The outside of the walls follows a highway, while the inside butts up against middle- and lower-class neighborhoods. Walking on the inside at one point I noticed a man had made the inside of one of the towers into his personal little workshop, doing some sort of machine work in the darkness.

I took a subway ride out to the walls one day to walk along a bit - and ended up walking back the entire length of the wall and then on home - they extend about 4 miles long on the Western side.

The flat we were staying in had an amazing view over the Bosphorus. Here you can see the flat:

The arrow points to the flat

From this vantage point I was able to get some nice photos looking out towards the Atatürk bridge.

In the last one you see Mom with an iPhone!! She's checking and sending emails and photos, on vacation. Never thought I'd see that. I don't even have an iPhone.

One interesting thing about Istanbul is that there are cats EVERYWHERE. Especially in our neighborhood. They were just everywhere.

On our last day, we took a boat trip up the Bosphorus. We passed this fortress (Rumelihisari) I had read about that Mehmed built in the run up to his conquest of Constantinople. Amazing it is in such condition 500 years later.

At the halfway point of our boat trip we were dropped at a little tourist-trap village where we ate lunch and I was able to get some great photos of kids jumping off our boat into the sea.

Finally, a common theme in my recounts of my travels has been the food. Istanbul was of course no exception to interesting and tasty food. The best dish I had was lamb on top of this sort of eggplant mush. It was incredibly tasty. Next best I'd say was the baklava. I ate it until I got sick.

Mom and Nora fell in love with this mint-lemonade concoction a guy whipped up where we were eating lunch.
Afterward they guy suggested we take a peek from the view of the tables on the roof. Look at this. Nobody was even up there. What an incredible view, they were hardly advertising it.

A few nights, I just went out roaming for random take-out that looked tasty and brought it back so we could eat out on the balcony. The last night I went out and got a dürüm for myself, just to compare it to the dürüms I get in Dresden. I have to say, it was much more different than I expected, almost a different dish altogether, and the meat was clearly of a higher quality.

One morning I went out to get milk from the local convenience store. But when I got in there I realized I had no idea what the Turkish word for 'milk' was. I found a white refrigerated carton with a cow on it, that I was pretty sure was milk, but still had my doubts. Just at this time, I heard a couple speaking German behind me, which was odd because we were not in a particularly touristy area, and at a random little shop. So I took the opportunity to use my German and ask them what milk was - and it turns out that what I almost bought was actually a yogurt drink.

It is rare that speaking some German comes in handy outside of Germany, so it was really surprising to use it again in Istanbul. A couple days later Mom had a little swelling in one of her ankles, and although not painful, a little concerned of the deep vein thrombosis things having just gotten off an international flight. So we went over to the nearby hospital to check it out. Turns out, one of the receptionists did not speak English, but did speak German (it was a "German" hospital) - so I was able to translate instructions to Mom for waiting to see the doctor, etc. Turns out there was nothing wrong with the ankle, but Mom got to see the self-proclaimed best doctor in Turkey!

I was just getting comfortable getting to know my way around the neighborhood when it was time to go. The streets were most confusing mess and craziness. Like Venice, but with hills. Clearly, five days is just not enough to get a good feeling for Istanbul.